Introduction

The UK fitness industry has reached a value of £4.3 billion and still growing for the forseeable future, the rise of supplements has played a big part and new and appealing ‘pre-workout’ supplements are the latest in this field.

Pre workout supplements or ‘ergogenic aids’ are used to enhance performance and normally consist of ingredients such as caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, L-arginine and taurine.

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However, the degree to which they are effective is an area that has been highly debated by a number of research studies and is something that I will cover in this article.

Supplement ingredients

Many of the ingredients in these supplements have no scientific backing and a number of them such as “Jack3d” which contained 1,3 dimethylamylamine [DMAA], have been banned in certain countries.

Proprietary blends

Moreover, many ‘pre-workout’ supplements contain proprietary blends.

These are a list of ingredients that make up a part of the products formula and are specific to the individual manufacturer.

These blends can be dangerous due to the fact that the specific amount of each individual ingredient – which is a part of the blend, does not have to be stated. Therefore, people have no idea of how much of a certain ingredient they are taking, which is why I would advise to stay away from ‘pre-workouts’ that contain these blends.

Beneficial ingredients

On the other hand, some of the ingredients such as creatine, caffeine and beta-alanine have been shown to provide a number of benefits with regards to performance.

Caffeine: this alone helps to improve alertness and reaction time and also has been shown to increase the rate of lipolysis (breakdown of fat) thus sparing glycogen and thereby aiding performance (Costill et al, 1977).

Creatine: has been shown to “promote greater gains in strength” (Kreider et al, 1998) and also enhance “the ability to produce higher muscular force and/or power output” (Terjung et al, 2000).

are pre workouts safe_3Beta-alanine [β-alanine]: has been shown to increase the carnosine level within skeletal muscle by up to 80% (Gleeson, 2013) thereby “increasing intracellular buffering during exercise…increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and performance” (Sale et al., 2010).

While most of these ingredients will be a part of nearly every ‘pre-workout’ to date, there are a number that may contain ingredients that have not been approved by the World Anti Doping Agency and have very little, if not zero, research behind them.

How to find the right supplements for you

Furthermore, a handful of these supplements make very bold statements that are not necessarily true and lead people into a false sense of security, especially those who are new to the Health & Fitness industry.

However, there are a number of ways that people can steer clear of the ‘dodgy’ supplements.

1. Do your own research!

2. Take a look at Informed Sport – which provides a comprehensive list of supplements, ingredients and manufacturing facilities that have been tested to make sure that they do not contain any banned substances and ensure that they have been manufactured to the highest quality.

3. Seek advice from fitness professionals.

4. Anything that seems too good to be true probably is.

5. Consult a physician if necessary.

6. Stay away from proprietary blends!

Are they for everyone?

The simple answer is No!

There are a number of people that will be very sensitive to some of the ingredients [e.g. high caffeine content] and it is advised that those under the age of 18 should not take these supplements.

There are also others such as those who are pregnant/breastfeeding or individuals with heart conditions that should certainly stay away.

Improving your performance

are pre workouts safe_2On the other hand, with the correct ingredients and dosage, many of these ergogenic aids will help to improve performance in a variety of areas ranging from sport to general resistance training.

They are also great for those days – especially when it comes to training, where you don’t feel your best or you are lacking energy, but one very important point to consider is that they should not be relied on every time you come to train or take part in some form of exercise.

Taking the correct dosage

Many people make the mistake of taking them on a daily basis, which can lead to some individuals becoming accustomed to the ingredients.

As a result, they decide to increase the dosage so they can feel the effects. This is arguably where it can become dangerous and may lead to health problems.

Therefore, I would strongly advise taking them in moderation and also for times when you need a boost. It is also wise to cycle off them to not only give your body a break but also to make sure that you don’t become used to their effects.

All ‘pre-workout’ supplements will have guidance on the back of them with regards to how and when to take them.

Finally, if there were anything to take away from this, it would be to stay on the side of caution when approaching these supplements. As appealing as some of them may look and sound, they can have serious side effects if taken incorrectly.

They can certainly be a ‘friend’ when taken wisely, but at the same time can be a ‘foe’!

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References: 

– Costill, D. L., Dalsky, G. P., & Fink, W. J. (1977). Effects of caffeine ingestion on metabolism and exercise performance. Medicine and science in sports, 10(3), 155-158.

– Gleeson, M. (2013), “Biochemistry of Exercise” in The Encyclopaedia of Sports Medicine John Wiley & Sons Ltd, , pp. 36-58.

– Kreider, R. B., Ferreira, M., Wilson, M., Grindstaff, P., Plisk, S., Reinardy, J., … & Almada, A. L. (1998). Effects of creatine supplementation on body composition, strength, and sprint performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 30, 73-82.

– Sale, C., Saunders, B., & Harris, R. C. (2010). Effect of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine concentrations and exercise performance. Amino acids, 39(2), 321-333.

– Terjung, R. L., Clarkson, P., Eichner, E. R., Greenhaff, P. L., Hespel, P. J., Israel, R. G., & Williams, M. H. (2000). American College of Sports Medicine roundtable. The physiological and health effects of oral creatine supplementation. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32(3), 706-717.

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